With the industry already disrupted by Covid, it’s crucial we find a solution to the post-Brexit barriers for touring musicians
Many musicians' livelihoods depend on them being able to tour cheaply across Europe, but they now face additional costs and a potential plethora of paperwork for each EU country they visit.
The Beatles famously honed their craft in Hamburg, so that when they hit the big time in Britain they were already seasoned performers. Some claim that the current row about work permit free touring for performers in Europe is thus a non-issue. If the Fab Four did it before Britain joined the Common market, what’s the problem post-Brexit? That ignores the fact that they were eventually deported!
The value of our vibrant music scene has been shown by its physical absence during Covid. While many of us have sought solace through recorded music, leading to a Spotify windfall for major record labels, the income and opportunities provided to musicians by playing live have been lost.
When we can once again file into concert halls, crowd into bars and flock to festivals, it is vital that our musicians can revive and renew our world-beating £2.9 billion UK music export market.
Last year Ministers reassured MPs of their commitment to seek an agreement with EU counterparts over the status of touring musicians post-Brexit. Former Culture Minister Nigel Adams speaking in a Commons debate which I attended a year ago said, ‘It is essential that free movement is protected for artists post 2020.’ But under the last minute deal, touring British musicians now face additional costs and a potential plethora of paperwork for each of the EU 27 they visit.
Many of those musicians are not part of large, well-funded, operations. Building a live following by hopping onto a cheap flight, they might cross a handful of European borders to play a few gigs and sell some of their merchandise along the way.
Playing on tour is both the Research and Development, and the bread and butter, of the music industry. Combined with the uncertainty and disruption caused by the pandemic, these additional barriers will drive many out of an industry to which they are crucial to make successful; widening the cracks in the UK’s talent pipeline.
There will be a re-location of these businesses to mainland Europe unless an alternative solution is found to a regime of permits, carnets and cabotage rules
These barriers do not just affect the livelihoods of musicians, but also the army of skilled freelancers behind the scenes. At the DCMS Select Committee, Duncan Bell of ‘WeMakeEvents’ described the experience of a lighting engineer who said, ‘There are already companies seeking contractors that have EU passports only for international work. How am I supposed to remain competitive..?’
He went on to describe how for larger tours much of the logistics and haulage business is UK based. There will be a re-location of these businesses to mainland Europe unless an alternative solution is found to a regime of permits, carnets and cabotage rules which limit the number of stops a truck can make on one trip.
This is not about revisiting the arguments of Leave vs Remain. On Monday, the Commons will consider an e-petition signed by 282,534 people seeking Europe-wide visa-free work permits for touring professionals and artists. Our DCMS Select Committee has asked the government to publish the correspondence between the UK and EU on this issue so we can properly gauge where the disagreement lies and how to fix it.
In the words of the old Beatles’ song,
‘We can work it out!’
Kevin Brennan is the Labour MP for Cardiff West and member of the DCMS Committee.